An unexpected performance


Ben Sanders

“So Dad, what role are you auditioning for?” Instructor Chris Knoll was shocked. He just planned on driving his daughter to the audition, not to audition himself. Knoll responded to the director, “None, I’m just her driver.” He insisted. Knoll gave in and auditioned on the spot. That moment would be the beginning of his lifelong passion for acting. 

   Becoming an actor, however, was never on Knoll’s radar. Knoll is the head coach for the Men’s Cross-Country team and a current teacher for West Ottawa High School. Over his 35 years of teaching, Knoll has taught subjects from World History to Theater and Creative Writing. Sr. Bella Kephart, who took Theater class last year, described Knoll as “Incredibly eccentric, but authentic to the core.” Knoll’s personality truly shows how passionate and talented he is with his teaching. 

   Knoll, however, was unaware of one of his untapped talents: acting. In the summer of 2008, that would all change. 

   The Red Barn in Saugatuck, MI, needed actors for a couple of ten-minute plays that summer. One role, in particular, stuck out to Knoll’s daughter, Julie. She insisted that she go down to audition, so Knoll obliged and drove her down. Upon arrival, Julie received a “cold reading” of a script she had never seen before. The director soon persuaded Knoll to audition as well. Knoll got three roles in three different plays. His acting career was just starting. 

   Knoll said that his daughter inspired him to become an actor and ultimately audition that day. Without her, Knoll would have never gotten into acting. 

   In the summer of 2010, Knoll played as Lenny in Rumors, a farce based on mistaken identity. This play is when Knoll realized how much he loved acting. 

   Despite having a 700-word monologue to remember, Knoll mentioned how “the character itself was a lot of fun” and how the play was funny in an intelligent way. When the police came to investigate the murder of a rich man in the play, Knoll had to impersonate the man so they wouldn’t know he died. Out of his 12 years of acting, Knoll still remembers Rumors as his favorite play. 

   Knoll described how he prepares for play and his approach to acting, “I rely on the physical stuff being all set: the props and costumes. I also do some stretching beforehand to get rid of some of the nervous energy.” Knoll mentioned how acting requires memorizing a lot of lines. He also said, “It helps to have someone to read lines with, preferably other people in the play or just whoever is willing to use a copy of the script. A lot of older people in community theater say that you know you’re in community theater when your children know the lines better than you.”

   Throughout his years of acting, Knoll has mastered taking on the persona of a character in a play. Instructor Michelle Stoel teaches English classes across from Instructor Chris Knoll’s classroom. She described how being a close friend of Knoll and a fellow teacher has opened her eyes to his acting career, “I always like to hear about his tryouts and how he’s doing practicing lines.” 

   In the winter of 2019, Knoll performed as Mr. Gower in It’s a Wonderful Life. Stoel, her mom, and a few of her colleagues went to go see Knoll perform. 

  In the play, Mr. Gower is a bleary-eyed, mean alcoholic who, after suffering the loss of his son, struggles to do his job as a pharmacist. Knoll’s ability to take on such a persona poses no challenge for him. At one point during the play, Stoel’s mom whispered over to Stoel, “I think he’s drunk.” (of course he wasn’t).

   Knoll’s acting experience and talent play an important role in his teaching career. 

Stoel mentioned how “I love the idea of the West Ottawa family growing together and experiencing the arts together, even past graduation.” In the production of It’s a Wonderful Life, Knoll performed alongside one of his previous students, Jason Reimink. Stoel said that Knoll shares his real-world acting experience and monologues with his classes. His teaching and acting have inspired WO students, just like Reimink, to act. 

   Even during the pandemic, Knoll has found ways to act. Jr. Mayson Levandoski, a varsity cross-country runner, went to go see Knoll perform Ozma of Oz this summer at Kollen Park. Knoll played multiple roles ranging from narrator to Tik Tok-the mechanical man. In particular, Tik Tok helped Dorothy Gale, the main character, throughout the whole play. Levandoski mentioned, “He did it with such enthusiasm that you might have mistaken him for being on Broadway.” 

   Max Bush, the Executive Director of the Ozma of Oz, described Knoll as “always prepared and reliable.” Bush said that Knoll always had a good sense of humor and was animated in his performances. His audition spoke volumes. Bush mentioned, “I was impressed with his auditions for Tik Tok. In my mind, he was cast instantly.”

   Knoll hopes to continue his acting career in the future. With the pandemic still happening, Knoll said, “I would love to be on stage more, but it’s not a viable thing right now.” While future performances aren’t certain, one thing is. Knoll’s acting career is far from over. Knoll’s once untapped talent has become an integral part of his life.